Creating a safer world for all children

Barcodes and ISBN’s. Why do authors need them?

An ISBN is an International Standard Book Number. It is a 13-digit number that’s used as a unique identifier for books.

ISBN’s other important facts:

  • If you are the publisher and paying to get your book printed, including other digital formats, you will need to apply and buy ISBN’s.
  • If you plan to sell your book in digital formats such as ePub and MOBI, it is best practice in the industry to apply a separate ISBN for each format.
  • If you plan to sell your book in bookstores, to libraries, or through online retailers like Amazon.com, you will need an ISBN.

The ISBN gives your book a universal ID, which is used by publishers, booksellers, libraries, internet retailers and supply chains to find and refer to your book.

Do I need a barcode with my ISBN?
Barcodes are used to label and scan books. It reads your ISBN.

  • If you want your books in bricks and mortar stores, you need a barcode.
  • Barcodes are situated on the back of your book’s cover and typically in the bottom right-hand corner.
  • You can purchase barcodes from Bowker in the US, Thorpe-Bowker in AUS, or Nielsen for the UK.
  • Barcodes hold other information like the price of the book.
  • If you are distributing through Ingram Sparks or Createspace (or both), you can buy ISNB’s direct from them. Read the requirements if you do. There are conditions on how and where you can sell your book.
  • Do work with a professional graphic artist when working on the cover for your book. Ask if they have worked with barcodes and ISNB’s?

I purchased 10 ISBN’s plus 1 barcode through Thorpe and Bowker. I used individual ISBN’s for each of my formats including my paperback, ePub, and MOBI digital formats.

I hope that some of this information is useful when deciding on which direction to pursue in the publishing industry. If you are uncertain, research and seek out professionals that can assist with the publishing of your book.

This information is general in nature and should not be used as a substitute for professional publishing advice.


Christine is based on the sunny coast of Western Australia in the seaside town of Geraldton.